GF Substitutions Part XII: How to Handle your Flops

by Jenn on September 26, 2010

in Flops,GF Substitutions,Gluten Free

Peanut Butter Cookies

Welcome to this week’s installment of GF Substitutions!!! This week, we are going to talk about how to handle flops in gluten free cooking/baking.  But first, I want to remind you that there is still some time to submit to me your submissions for the Special Roundup coming up featuring everyone’s gluten free experiences! I want to see what lovely foods you have been making, and if they haven’t turned out so lovely, what you’ve learned along the way :)  Time is running out quickly so make sure to email me your submissions (jenncuisine at gmail dot com)!

This week is all about dealing with that one thing in gluten free cooking / baking that no matter what variety you try, you always have issues with, and how to keep moving towards progress and keep your spirits up.  I am sure there is something that just never seems to work out exactly they way you want it to, no matter how many kinds you try or how many times you make it.  For me, that thing is cookies.  It seems no matter what type of cookie I try to make, there are always issues.  Too thin and spreading, hard as a rock, or just plain old morphing into something almost unrecognizable at all.  When I try to make cookies, there is always that sense of trepidation and intimidation that comes over me.  Yet I haven’t given up on cookies completely, and keep trying!  I think knowing how to deal with flops is an important issue – flops don’t necessarily mean you’re a bad cook!  I think they can be a bit more frequent during gluten free cooking/baking because oftentimes when we are in the kitchen making gluten free deliciousness, recipes can be a bit experimental – especially if you are trying to make your own recipe or adapt a glutenicious one for the first time.

A little story about my cookie experiences – I have made so many failed attempts at cookies, of all kinds… especially when I have decided to be brave and try my own recipes.  Some have even been able to grace upon this blog from time to time.  I can make sugar cookies that are hard as a rock:


Though broken up in a food processor they make for a nice cookie crumb crust on a pie!  I can make cookies that spread so thin the only way to contain them is to bake them in ramkeins like a mini cake:


Though I admit this is not half bad still warm, fresh out of the oven with a little ice cream on top! And my macarons – oh I have failed so many batches that had potential to be wonderful:


But at least I’ve got a sense of humor about it 😉  Saying that, I’ve made some much better looking batches the more I practiced, but still have never perfected this infamous cookie.   However, messed up macarons are perfect for making frangipane cream to accompany some poached apples.

And then come my peanut butter cookies.  It all started when I was home in the States last and my dad made some gorgeous cashew butter cookies with one of his old family recipes.  I was determined to convert them to gluten free, because they seriously are the best nut butter cookies I’ve ever had.  Ever.


I have made so many batches of gluten free peanut butter cookies, trying to recreate the perfect chewyness that is our old family recipe.  While I’ve gotten some tasty cookies, I just have not been able to recreate the exact awesomeness that I grew up with.  I will keep trying, but I think I won’t be able to do any more work on them until I get back to the States, because shortening here is not the same as American shortening (at least what I’ve found so far).  The graisse végétale that I’ve found here melts at a much lower temperature than I am accustomed to, and so bakes very similarly to butter – maybe it is not hydrolyzed??  maybe I’m looking for the wrong thing?? – and I definitely need shortening in these cookies so that they don’t spread so much.  So unfortunately, I don’t think I can do much more until I get my hands on some American shortening.  However, I have learned that all of my peanut butter cookie messups make the perfect topping on some ice cream after a swelteringly hot Summery day.

So, I seem to have issues with cookies.  Every now and then I’ve had something turn out well – like these amaretti cookie sandwiches, or the gingerbread house I made last year.  But oftentimes, I just have a lot of cookie flops.  Some might say I should give up on them altogether, just accept that cookies are not my deal.  But I keep trying, and don’t let flops keep me from attempting gluten free deliciousness.  What do I do? Here are some tips I’ve learned over the past couple years to help you make the most out of your GF flops:

  • If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  I know it’s cliché, but it’s true.  Sometimes a flop is just due to lack of experience, and all it takes is another shot at it to get it right.  I’m pretty convinced my puff pastry issues are because I need to do this tip more.
  • Start tweaking your recipe.  Once you know it’s not your skills (or lack of) causing the problems, maybe it’s the recipe itself.  Start trying to think about what is going wrong, and what changes need to be made.  For ex. with my peanut butter cookies, I know part of my problem is because the “shortening” I have is too soft.  Once I am in the States and try them again, I will make sure to use the type of shortening I am familiar with.
  • Find ways to repurpose your flops if you can.  It’s always less depressing for me when I know I can still use them in some way rather than have to throw good food (and expensive GF ingredients) in the trash.  All sorts of terrible cookies can be turned into deliciousness once they are crushed up and used for other things, but this tip isn’t just limited to cookies.  Have dry icky bread?? Make bread pudding out of it! There are a gazillion ways to repurpose flops!
  • Cook with a friend who knows what they’re doing.  Sometimes you are missing a key step that you never realized, that maybe a friend cooking with you will spot.  Besides, cooking in the kitchen together with friends is always more fun!
  • Laugh at yourself!  It’s ok to make fun of yourself from time to time (heck, I always am when I make something that turns out wrong!).

Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t come out right!  We all have flops, even more experienced GF cooks.  It’s ok!  Flops are an excellent way to learn more about cooking/baking gluten free in the kitchen, as well as having a little fun with your food :)

How do you handle flops? Any tips or advice?? Any great ideas to repurpose some GF recipes that went wrong?


Rosa September 26, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I love your sense of humour! The macarons are so cute… ;-P



Jenn September 27, 2010 at 7:34 am

haha, thanks!

Jessica September 27, 2010 at 4:01 am

This is an awesome post Jenn! I just sent it on to my GFree friend!

Jenn September 27, 2010 at 7:35 am

Thank you!!

Christine September 27, 2010 at 5:55 am

I have lots of flops having to do with icing. It’s kind of pathetic. Maybe because I don’t always use the exact ingredients and since you’re dealing with sugar and/or fat it can be quite finicky.

Every time I think I have made a gluten free flop, unless it’s REALLY bad, someone eats it. I guess that is one of the benefits of having an entire gluten free family. There have been a few times where things end up in the garbage and I’m a bit frustrated about it especially if I was wanting to take it somewhere, but I just have to laugh at how ridiculously things turned out and that it’s not that bad in the end.

Jenn September 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

ha yes, we all just have to sit back and laugh sometimes! I’ll admit I have not really tried much with icing, but when I cook/bake I frequently am not using the exact ingredients too. Yeah we usually end up eating the flops in some way or another…It’s really hard for me to throw away food!

InTolerantChef September 27, 2010 at 9:30 am

Those macarons look very similar to some of mine! The good news is, like you say, you can always make a silk purse out of these sows ears… Not a very yummy similie, but apt.

Jenn September 27, 2010 at 10:22 am

Ha – yes it is a perfect analogy, even if not so tasty :) Glad to know I’m not the only one who has issues with macarons!

Kelly September 27, 2010 at 11:06 am

Ug. I have been trying to make a 2/3 whole grain bread without rice, soy, milk or eggs for about a month now. (That would be 1/3 startch to 2/3 whole grain) and, no matter what I do, it seems always just shy of right. First I thought it was my guar gum sub, then too much water, then not long enough in the oven, then oven temp…and on and on. I try to change only one thing at a time so I can figure out what’s wrong. I’m getting closer this week, but STILL have a gummy little layer at the bottom of the bread. ANYhoo…add to that my failed sugar cookies for Christmas last year(waaay too soft after about 12 hours) and a spectacular fail from a quick bread mix (had to throw it away, it was so undercooked and not recoverable). I have had my shares of failures. But I just keep keepin’ on, trying to learn from each failure. I love your sense of humor about it. I am no always so gracious!
On nut cookies…I am not sure what you are looking for, but I have had really great success with the flourless peanut butter cookie recipes. They are super simple, just PB, sugar, egg and salt (if the PB is unsalted) and they work better with the ‘natural’ style peanut butter than with the creamy-typical sweetened-hydrogenated Skippy-Peter Pan type. I use a 250g jar of peanut butter, 3/4 c sugar, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt, and one egg. You make balls from the dough and smash it just like normal PB cookies. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350F/180C. Then they have to sit on the pan for a minute or two before you can get them off without crumbling. The longer they cool, the more sturdy they become. I have make these with homemade toasted sesame butter and from almond butter as well as peanut butter. Each nut seems to lend a different texture. Not really low calorie, these guys, but super delicious.

Jenn September 27, 2010 at 11:14 am

Well at least you keep getting closer!!! Can’t wait to see what your finished successful recipe looks like!!

Thanks for the nut cookie suggestions – the recipe I am trying to convert uses flour, and that’s what is making things tricky as well. Maybe I should just make a flourless pb cookie…. Love your creativity with toasted sesame butter, I bet those are amazing!

torviewtoronto September 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

delicious pictures

Jenn September 27, 2010 at 9:21 pm


fooddreamer September 28, 2010 at 2:17 am

Since I am often trying to go gluten free AND low carb, it can be tricky. I can’t use rice flour or many other grain-based flours, and I can’t use sugar. I have yet to make a chocolate chip cookie that is truly like it’s high carb counterpart, although they are good enough to satisfy in a pinch. And I tried to make chocolate meringues that were a true disaster. The egg whites shrunk to nothing and I think I got about 10 cookies out of it, pretty hard. They tasted alright so I ate them anyway (I’m the only one who did!).
Generally I handle it by laughing and moving on. I vow to go back and tweak but I don’t always have the time. I figure I will get there eventually!

Jenn September 28, 2010 at 7:35 am

Ha, sometimes it’s just best to laugh and move on! I know low carb + gluten free is a special set of challenging, I got a taste of that when we still lived with my parents and I had to make food not only gluten free for my husband, but also diabetic friendly for my mom. It’s a tough combo! Good for you for working on some tasty cookies!!

Meg @ Gluten-Free Boulangerie October 2, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Can you find palm shortening (such as Spectrum) where you are (or maybe order from Amazon)? I’ve had good results with it, anyway.

As far as flops…ugh, I’ve certainly written a few posts about mine – one of the worst, though (before I started blogging) involved too-wet bread expanding in the oven, oozing over the edge of the pan and overflowing onto the bottom of the oven like some kind of floury blob monster. That was one of the few things I knew undeniably had to be thrown out. (I totally understand what you mean about not wanting to throw away those expensive ingredients!)

A couple tips for bread baking:

– if your dough seems much too wet and oozy, it IS. Do not give up and stick it in the oven yet – you will end up with a flat, dense doorstop that is covered in cracks.

– if you do not have a high enough protein & fat:starch ratio, your bread will not brown. It will come out looking bleached white and completely dry, and will taste like a giant hardtack biscuit. This is especially an issue when not using eggs.

As far as repurposing, every kind of crumbs can be turned into something yummy: some of my favourites are crumb crusts for pie, crusty breading for fish or chicken, British steamed sweet puddings using breadcrumbs (wonderful with custard sauce!) and Austrian savoury bread dumplings. (If anyone wants my recipe for these:

Jenn October 3, 2010 at 1:45 am

Thanks Meg, those are some great tips to share! I’ll be making some bread tomorrow, so your tips come with perfect timing!

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